Amplifying Student Voices: Restorative Justice in a Virtual School Setting

The transition to virtual learning due to the pandemic posed myriad challenges for educational institutions globally. While grappling with this new reality, Middletown High School in Connecticut harnessed an innovative approach, emphasizing restorative justice and the power of student voices. A riveting presentation led by Joe Brummer, accompanied by a panel of students and coordinating adults, delved into this transformative journey.

Joe Brummer, a prominent RJ Trainer, navigated the conversation, with panelists that included Dawn Brooks, Assistant Principal at Middletown High School; Flo and Naveah, student circle keepers whose last names were withheld for privacy; and Justin Carbonella, the Director of Middletown Youth Services and also an RJ Trainer.

The heart of the discussion revolved around the students, who were trained in circle keeping just as the world was gripped by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. But this unexpected situation couldn’t deter their enthusiasm or the purpose of the training. Instead, adapting to the circumstances, they shifted to the virtual realm. Throughout the summer, they held weekly Zoom sessions, fostering a sense of community and continuing their education on restorative justice principles.

One could only marvel at the resilience and adaptability showcased by these young minds. They didn’t merely focus on the mechanics of circle keeping but took deep dives into understanding each other, forging connections, and cultivating a sense of belonging despite the physical distance.

Dawn Brooks highlighted the significance of such an initiative in these trying times. As an Assistant Principal, her perspective offered insights into how such student-led ventures can assist in maintaining cohesion and nurturing the foundational values of the school community, even in a remote learning environment.

Flo and Naveah, the student circle keepers, shared their first-hand experiences. Their narratives painted a vivid picture of the challenges they faced, the bonds they formed, and the transformative power of restorative justice in creating a supportive and inclusive virtual space. Their accounts were a testament to the importance of student voices in shaping and sustaining a relationship-driven school ecology.

Justin Carbonella, with his dual expertise as the Director of Middletown Youth Services and an RJ Trainer, provided a broader perspective. He emphasized the role of restorative justice in nurturing holistic development, emphasizing its significance not just within the school’s confines but in the larger context of youth development and community building.

One of the standout moments of the presentation was the emphasis on the “student voice.” The panel made a compelling argument for the crucial role students play in molding the educational landscape. By allowing students to take the reins and fostering an environment where their voices are not just heard but actively incorporated, schools can cultivate a more inclusive, understanding, and relationship-based ecology.

In conclusion, the presentation underscored the adaptability, resilience, and innovation that Middletown High School displayed in these unprecedented times. It was an enlightening exploration into the world of restorative justice, championing the belief that even in the face of adversity, with commitment, creativity, and the power of collective voices, positive change is not just possible, but inevitable.